The Past is Always Present

            It drives my wife crazy that all my friends and I do is talk about the good old days. I’m sure it’s because we can’t remember much of what we did last week.

            Many of our memories are of our days at Center School in the original building built in 1898 and in the new additions built in 1937 and 1952. For some of us of a certain age, our parents were students there as well. I recall seeing my father’s name written on the clock-tower wall. I added my own as did my children who, though not students there, were allowed to add theirs by Mr. Mudgie Tavares, the beloved long-time custodian.

            Looking back at our days in Center School and later at Old Rochester were idyllic. We were a diverse group with no obvious issues reflective of the world outside. Our memories were of favorite teachers, field days, the day all the boys wore red pants to school and the principal, Mr. Kobak, sent us home to change into something “more respectable.” That sort of thing.

            There was good old Mr. Flynn, the basketball coach. I never had him as a teacher, but I was on the basketball team. Boys and girls basketball and cheerleading were the only sports at Center School. I was lucky enough to make the team, though I was short and wore glasses. I had a heck of a layup but not much of a jump shot, so I sat at the end of the bench and only got into the game if we were way ahead, which wasn’t often. If you made a turnover or missed a foul shot, Coach Flynn would rap you on your head with his big Providence College ring. He left a deep impression on me if you get my drift.

            Mrs. Root’s Geography Fair was a much-anticipated event. Each student in her classes would paint a country or two. The kids could pick any color they liked for their country. Those were the days of the “red scare,” so Russia or the U.S.S.R. as it was known, was always red (using up a year’s worth of paint because it was so big, but it was worth it), Ireland was green and so on. When the pieces were hung together like a jigsaw puzzle, the map would cover the entire wall of the gymnasium, floor to ceiling. The custodian helped put it up with his long ladder. Everybody chipped in to help. We learned a lot about the world that way.

            Her History Fair was another annual event we all looked forward to. All the students dressed up as historical figures and prepared reports on their subjects. The dressing up was always a hit, not the reports. I was Teddy Roosevelt, bushy mustache and all.

            Mr. Pierce was a favorite who taught science as was Mr. Hamon, the math teacher, though some kids would make fun of him because he wore the same clothes every day. Both moved on to the high school when it opened. He was a colleague years later when I taught at Old Rochester. He was a nice guy and didn’t deserve the disrespect. Lucy Agnalt was my favorite. She was my ninth-grade homeroom and Latin teacher. She made me the editor of the school paper, The Log, a mimeographed weekly. Sadly, she left early that year with cancer. Everyone loved Mrs. Agnalt.

            People don’t believe me when I tell of the shooting range in the basement. All the boys learned gun safety shooting at targets with a 22-caliber, pellet rifles. All the girls took home economics in the next room where they learned to sew bandages … only kidding. After that, I went hunting with my father and froze to death. I haven’t touched a gun since.

            Most everyone walked to school because most everyone lived in the village. In the eighth grade, I became a crossing guard in charge of the corner across from St. Anthony’s Church. I did such a great job … no fatalities … that by the ninth grade I was promoted to guarding the corner of Church and Barstow Streets, which had much more traffic, which is to say very little. The town was smaller then.

            The school’s original building became the Senior Center, and the two additions are all gone, both of which were replaced by a modern, architectural beauty that blends perfectly with the original building. Now, due to enrollment issues, there is talk of removing all the children to Old Hammondtown School. The buildings may have changed uses or disappeared, but the memories remain. Someone said a building isn’t a school, it’s the children and teachers in it.

            I think I said that last week. Who can remember?

By Dick Morgado

            Editor’s note: Mattapoisett resident Dick Morgado is an artist and retired newspaper columnist whose musings are, after some years, back in The Wanderer under the subtitle “Thoughts on ….” Morgado’s opinions have also appeared for many years in daily newspapers around Boston.

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